In 2014, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks played in the NFC Championship Game. While those teams are still led by the same coaches (Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy and Seattle’s Pete Carroll) and quarterbacks (Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Seattle’s Russell Wilson), plenty has changed.
First and foremost, it’s their place in the standings. Green Bay enters Thursday night’s game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field with a 4-4-1 record. Seattle is 4-5. With those records, this could serve as an elimination game considering the state of the loaded NFC.
“The reality is both teams are at a point in the season, past the halfway point, where we both need wins to stay alive in this NFC playoff picture,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “So it’s a pivotal game in that regard. But especially playing on the road and playing in a difficult environment, it’ll be a big one if we come up and get a win out there. Hopefully, we carry that forward after this past week.”
Both teams believe they are better than their records would indicate. Green Bay had a late lead at the Los Angeles Rams and was driving toward a fourth-quarter lead at New England. All five of Seattle’s losses have come by one score.
“It’s finishing at the right time, making the right play,” Carroll said. “We’ve been so good at those games for such a long time that the fact that it’s not happening is a little bit unusual. I’m disappointed because we’ve been able to always feel like we’re going to win those games and do it. We still have the same mentality about it and attitude about it, but we’ve got to show it. We’ve got to get those finishes done.”
Since breaking into the league as a third-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2012, Wilson has experienced a great deal of success, winning more than 66 percent of his 117 career starts.
During his first six NFL seasons, many of Wilson’s most memorable victories came at the expense of Rodgers and the Packers, as Seattle defeated Green Bay three consecutive times between 2012 and 2014.
Preparing to duel with Rodgers once again, Wilson reflected on their prior battles and is looking forward to the latest installment in one of the NFC’s best rivalries.
“There’s obviously been some great games, there’s been some great moments. Definitely tough battles, just games that come down to the wire,” Wilson said, adding: “Aaron’s a great football player. Every time you play a great quarterback and play some great teams like the Packers — they have so much history, they know how to do it — every one of those moments you cherish and you look forward to those opportunities.”
Like most of his quarterback brethren in the NFL, Wilson can only marvel at the brilliance of Rodgers, a future Hall of Famer who has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only one pick this season despite playing with a sprained knee.
“I think what makes Aaron so great is he’s clutch.” Wilson said on Tuesday. “I think that he obviously has great arm talent. He understands the game, he works at it. He knows how to make plays. There’s only a few guys in the world, at every position, when you think about guys making plays in tough moments, like how did he do that — he’s one of those guys for sure. It’s always fun watching him.”
The quarterbacks are stars, but the key could be the running games. Aaron Jones rushed for a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay’s 31-12 victory over Miami on Sunday. He leads the NFL with 6.8 yards per carry. In back-to-back losses to the Chargers and Rams, the Seahawks yielded 7.3 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively. With Rodgers’ inconsistent play this season, the Packers almost certainly will try to get Jones going early.
Seattle, on the other hand, has the most run-heavy offense in the league and is No. 1 in rushing with 152.2 yards per game. Green Bay’s run defense got chewed up by Miami’s Frank Gore during the first half last week before settling down. The Packers are 21st with 4.5 yards allowed per carry.
“Their run attempts is the primary focus for them,” McCarthy said. “You just look at their last game, the production they’re getting from the run game. I think as you go through the defensive game plans each and every week, it’s to try to make the offense one dimensional. Their run game is a huge challenge.”